The most stunning car on auto show floors from the past season has been unleashed on the road this summer.
The all-new 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S sports coupe's low slung design blends feminine and masculine elements, with gorgeous rounded curves and sleek sculpted lines. The balance continues behind the wheel, where the car has a cunning, adaptive feel that reads the road and driver, yet has an audacious sense of raw power that simply wants to show off.
The beauty isn't just to attract attention; it's to enhance performance.
We hit the road early to bypass traffic on our way around Chicago to the southern tip of Lake Michigan to Gingerman Raceway in the quiet third-coastal town of South Haven, Mich. I was going to flex its muscle a bit on the on-ramp, but right as I was about to hit the straightaway the speedometer said we were nearing triple-digit speed. With the comfort level not differentiating between 50 mph and 100 mph, I knew I'd be in for a challenging, tempting ride.
The GT S is a track-ready supercar that is as pretty as it is powerful. It goes 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds and has a top speed of 193 mph. I didn't challenge either of those numbers. The power is as awesome as the attention to detail.
The engine is hand-built from start to finish by one AMG engineer, who then stamps his signature on the massive engine cover. What lies below is a direct injection 4.0-liter V-8 biturbo engine that generates 503-horsepower and 479 pound-feet of torque. There are more powerful cars, with more impressive specs. But the biturbo is something special. It enables the GT S to hit max torque at 1,750 RPM, and is nested inside the V of the engine – an industry first, according to Mercedes. It can simultaneously spin its wheels and throw you back in your seat, all while getting you to wild speeds before you catch your breath. At least it all feels simultaneous. It put a smile on my face every single time. Without a racetrack nearby, you may be spending a lot of time on cloverleaf ramps late at night.
Another race-inspired feature is the use of a dry sump oil system, which means there is a tank instead of an oil pan, which sits under the engine, so the engine is lower to the ground and helps the wild beast keep its manners.
Like most things full of mischief, the GT S can appear perfectly well behaved.
On the inside, the wide center console opens up into the center stack, which has four circular air vents that protrude like mini jet engines. The dash, which is designed with an "aviation theme," says Mercedes, is topped by its 8.4-inch screen and COMAND system. The screen houses a rear camera necessary due to poor rear visibility. The thick A-pillar can congest side visibility during road driving.
COMAND takes getting used to, but it shouldn't matter: the GT S is about driving. Hands will spend most of the time on the flat-bottomed performance steering wheel, which I'm pretty sure I was gripping in my dreams during my week with it. Wheel-mounted paddle shifters let you take over for the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, but the auto is faster than the blink-of-the-eye manual.
On that wide, fluting center console are 8 position buttons, including the AMG Dynamic Select knob. It has five performance options, from "race" which turns off all safety features and shifts the engine from something under the hood into the thing within your chest, to sport, sport plus, to the default C mode, which Mercedes calls "controlled efficiency."
Other buttons let you open up the exhaust, lower the suspension, and start the engine. With four buttons on either side of the nubbish gear selector and the extraneous touch pad controller for COMAND, the center console is shaped in a V, and those 8 buttons, 4 to a side, are cylinders.
The wide console design may cramp the interior for larger drivers, and the seat controls are wedged on the left bottom of the driver's seat instead of on the door panel of other Mercedes. Only the deft fingers of a pianist could accurately hit the buttons.
The GT S may appear refined, but it's always about performance.
We shook off the highway at St. Joseph's in western Michigan ostensibly to find breakfast. Soon enough the road running alongside Lake Michigan swept us along undulating dips like the waves out on the lake.
The lake was smooth; the ride was smoother.
Power is all about balance
The long nose and even longer wheelbase of the front mid-engine coupe distributes weight evenly, 47 percent to the front wheels and 53 percent to the back. Like other supercars, the GT S is wider than it is tall by nearly 16 inches. The wide axles get wide tires, 11-inch on the rear compared to 9-inch on front. Front wheels are 19 inches tall while the rear-driven wheels are 20 inches. The wide, low stance and performance tires increase grip.
The driver's seat practically extends over the rear axle, where the electronically controlled limited-slip differential ensures the torque is shifted to the higher traction rear wheel in cases with spinning wheels, which can result in anything from road conditions to cornering to accelerating with a powerful car. Such as this.
I couldn't compare it to a Porsche 911 unless I drove them side by side, though I sense the Porsche would inspire more confidence. Even though I was in full control, there's something feral in the GT S that left me on the cautious side.
The incredibly low center, like everything else on the car, lets the best drivers squeeze out the most performance. I'm not one of them. Prospective owners cannot get their money's worth unless they hit the track.
I didn't test it on Gingerman because I was there for another program sponsored by another automaker. I did drive it nearly 500 miles in one day, and the fatigue on the return to Chicago was from the traffic, not the car.
If I had my way I would've kept driving the length of the third coast, around all the Great Lakes, and experience how the car mirrors the moods of the lake, at turns smooth and stunning, blessed to behold, and at other turns wild and dangerous, deserving of cautious awe, and unfortunately for most people, impossible to own.
The GT, available early next year, will be slightly toned down with a price to match.
2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S at a glance
Vehicle type: Sports coupe
Base price: $129,900
As tested: $145,405 (excluding $925 destination fee)
MPG: 16 city, 22 highway
Engine: 4.0-liter, V-8 biturbo engine with direct injection
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch in rear-wheel drive